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29 October 2013
As president and co-founder of Télécoms Sans Frontières (TSF), Jean-François Cazenave often does not know which country he will be in from one day to the next.
TSF is a non-government
organisation which supplies crucial telecommunications support
to areas hit by natural disasters and conflicts. Cazenave has
an impressive background in humanitarian aid, which he explains
is due to his creative shortcomings.
"I would have liked to have been able to write, and I would
have liked to have been able to sing, but I can do neither of
those things," he jokes. "So I express my sensitivity through
the work I do for other people."
TSF was founded in 1998 after Cazenave had completed
humanitarian missions in Croatia and Bosnia. Refugees would
hand him scribbled phone numbers to contact their families with
"From this we realised there was a need for communication for
these refugees and that is why we created TSF," he says.
TSF has two international bases – in Managua,
Nicaragua, and Bangkok, Thailand – and is
headquartered in Pau, France. The international bases mean that
all time zones are covered.
"Any time there's an earthquake, a flood or a hurricane
forecast... we receive email and mobile phone alerts," Cazenave
Cazenave's daily routine is often fast-paced. He explains the
process that ensures aid is deployed as early as
Haiti's catastrophic earthquake in 2010, for example, happened
at 5pm on January 12 2010. Cazenave says that by 9am the next
day, TSF equipment had been installed at three
sites across the disaster zone.
The organisation can arrive at any disaster zone within 24
hours, and in this instance, Haiti's prime minister was able to
use TSF equipment to contact foreign governments.
"If we had more funds from institutional partners, we could
look at expansion," Cazenave says. "It would allow us to stay
on a mission for a bit longer... but that's not to say things
don't work well as they are."
TSF has six main partners – Inmarsat, the
Vodafone foundation, AT&T, Eutelsat, PCCW Global and
Astrium – without which it would not survive,
The deployment of emergency telecoms
services has been rapidly adopted worldwide and Cazenave
explains that telecoms aid can even take priority over medicine
"Once you've got the telecoms infrastructure set up within a
given village that's been affected by a natural disaster, all
other actions can then be co-ordinated in a much more efficient
manner," he says.
Thanks to the travel in Cazenave's role,
when he does get some free time, he likes to stay
put – but even that can be difficult.
"I've got five grandchildren that live in various countries
abroad, so even if I don't want to travel I'm obliged to," he
Telecoms Sans Frontieres,